Many kids first learned this lesson with the Transformers movie, which murdered a bunch of old favorites to make way for new characters/products. Yet the Transformers comic series was no slouch when it came to killing off the cast, particularly when writer Simon Furman took over the book. More obscure Transformers might simply disappear, but dozens of recognizable and once-important characters met grisly and sudden demises. And so the Transformers franchise taught children valuable lessons about sacrifice, mortality, and how you shouldn’t get all that attached to characters whose fate depends on what’s on the shelves at Toys “R” Us.
Transformers: The Movie came as a shock to kids who were used to the milder violence of the TV cartoon, where no one actually died despite all the explosions and laser barrages. The film opens with an entire planet of robot-people being eaten by Unicron, a giant mecha-creature voiced by Orson Welles. Perhaps kids didn’t realize what was in store, though. After all, no one on that doomed planet was an established Transformers character.
Some young viewers might’ve even stayed optimistic during the movie’s first big slaughter, when an Autobot shuttle is attacked by Decepticons and ’80s hair metal. OK, so the Decepticons gunned down Brawn. He’s tough! He’ll get better! And now Prowl got shot and is vomiting smoke. He can be fixed! That happened all the time in the cartoon! And Ironhide and Ratchet went down as well, but let’s not fret. They’ll be back on their feet in no time! And now… uh, Megatron just blew off Ironhide’s head at pointblank range. Ironhide, the amiably Southern gentleman of the group, is clearly dead. And the Transformers will never be the same.
Brainstorm was never quite an A-lister in the Transformers commercial empire. He had a somewhat prominent role in the cartoon (both in America and Japan) when the new Headmaster toys were introduced, and he stood out in the comics just because he was smart enough to fix other Autobots. Yet he didn’t catch on like Bumblebee or Grimlock or even The One Voiced By The Fast-Talking Guy From the Micro Machines Commercials. So when the planet-eating Unicron attacks the Transformer homeworld of Cybertron in the comics, Brainstorm is singled out as the first casualty.
Plenty of Transformers perished in the ensuing Unicron battle, but there’s something particularly gruesome about seeing a blubbering Brainstorm get speared and eaten. In fact, Brainstorm’s only the first of several Headmasters to meet doom during the battle; Hardhead is stepped on, while Highbrow is swatted like a fly. The fourth new Headmaster, Chromedome, just runs away. Maybe he suspected what was in store for a retired Transformers toy.
8) Red Alert
At only 12 issues, the Transformers Generation 2 comic doesn’t have that much time to linger on its frequent bloodshed. However, it spares a long glance for Red Alert, a paranoid Autobot who dodged unpleasant fates before (his death was storyboarded for the Transformers movie but never actually put in the film). Not long into the Generation 2 storyline, Red Alert pulls a gun on some Decepticons that ambushed his companions. This isn’t smart.
No, Red Alert didn’t have a toy in the Generation 2 line. Why do you ask?
7) Runabout and Runamuck
Runabout and Runamuck are notable for dying multiple times over the course of the Transformers comic. In their first appearance, the two Decepticons blaze a trail of mischief across the United States, covering the Washington Monument and other landmarks in alien graffiti. They are confronted by the Autobots and the recurring (and unnecessary) antagonist Circuit Breaker, who join forces to blast the jovial pranksters and send their charred forms into the sea.
The pair aren’t seen for many issues, but they show up alongside Decepticon leader Shockwave (who’d also been underwater for a long time) just in time for ol’ Unicron to attack. Runamuck seems to die in the big battle, as evidenced by his shattered car-corpse. Runabout doesn’t last much longer. While wandering around in celebration of his survival, he’s seized and eaten by some new, hideous menace.
Runamuck, however, returns to fight and die one more time. In the slightly more X-TREME Transformers: Generation 2 comic, he appears amid a bunch of Decepticons attacking a force of newer, nastier Decepticons. Runamuck is the first to die. And if you’ll pick up the new run of Transformers comics from IDW, you’ll see both Runamuck and Runabout meet grisly fates yet again.
Unlike every other character on this list, Scrounge did not have a corresponding toy. Therefore he was lucky to last more than a few comic panels. A member of an Autobot resistance cell on Cybertron, Scrounge is captured shortly after he uncovers new details about a Decepticon plot. Blaster (a.k.a. “The Good-Guy Soundwave”) rallies his fellow Autobots for a rescue mission that leads straight into the Smelting Pool, where robots are painfully boiled to death. Blaster manages to find Scrouge, or part of him, at least…
Much of the carnage visited upon Transformers is mollified by their robotic appearances, but we’re sure plenty of kids were put off by the sight of Scrounge’s half-melted form, wires and tubes hanging from him like spilled entrails. And to make matters worse, there’s no saving him. Scrounge prefers to die an agonizing, high-temperature death for some vague and self-sacrificing reason.
Poor ol’ Cloudburst was technically offed twice. A somewhat shy humanoid “Pretender” Autobot, he and his compatriot Landmine are the stars of a comic-book story arc that dumps them on the savage world of Femax. As the name might imply, it’s one of those backhandedly sexist barbarian societies run by women — conveniently Transformer-sized women, at that. The First One, leader of this pulp utopia, takes a liking to Cloudburst (or at least his human-like Pretender shell), and she reacts quite badly when he reveals that he’s a robot.
Fortunately, Cloudburst is a brand new toy, so the First One realizes her error and repairs his head off-panel. The two Transformers are then sent respectfully on their way, with Cloudburst showing curious admiration for the woman who just decapitated him. Everything’s okay, kids! All you have to worry about is explaining that cover to your parents!
4) Megatron and Ratchet
For Megatron and Ratchet, their deaths weren’t as disturbing as their resurrection. In a comic-book twist familiar to Transformers fans of any era, Megatron returns from apparently certain destruction. After a few issues of this, Autobot surgeon Ratchet destroys Megatron by… well, tackling him into a pile of explosives. The two of them are seemingly destroyed, but some plot device involving dimensional gateways brings them back to life as one hideous monstrosity.
After some gruesome conflict, the Ratchet-Megatron patty melt is divided into two separate robots, and they’re put into cryogenic stasis aboard the Autobot’s main ship. A while later, Megatron awakens and brawls with Galvatron, who is actually Megatron from an alternate reality. Sick of all this convoluted storytelling, Ratchet blows up the ship, even though this doesn’t prevent another Megatron comeback shortly down the road.
In the commentary track for Transformers the Movie, series writer Flint Dille reveals that the scheming, raspy-voiced Starscream is his favorite character from the show, and it’s not hard to see why. By trying to usurp Megatron every time the Decepticon leader so much as stepped out for the paper, Starscream brought much-needed inter-company conflict to a standard cast of good guys and bad guys. Both a ruthless slimeball and a shrieking coward, Starscream was just as essential to the show as Optimus Prime.
2) Alternate Reality Rodimus Prime
Transformers fans are frequently divided over Rodimus Prime, the young whippersnapper who leads the Autobots after Optimus Prime’s passing. Some find him whiny and ineffective. Others argue that this is the point, that Rodimus is supposed to grow into his role over time, and that the whole idea is a bit too much for a kids’ show where plot points might involve robot birthdays or time travel. For those who suspect that Rodimus would’ve led the Autobots straight to ruin, one issue of the Transformers comics explored an alternate reality where that pretty much happened.
In this divergent dimension, Unicron ate Cybertron, leaving the Decepticons to conquer the Earth and kill most of the Autobots. Rodimus is among the dead as the story opens, and his decomposing corpse is strung up between the half-destroyed towers of the World Trade Center. And then Galvatron wanders over to blast Rodimus’ lifeless form for good measure. He’s not a fan, either.
1) Optimus Prime
The big-screen demise of Optimus Prime may have shocked every kid who saw the Transformers movie, but it was only one of several exits for the Autobot leader and ’80s icon. In cartoon canon, he died, was reborn as a zombie, died again, and then came back again. In the comics, he was killed as the result of a video-game bet with Megatron (yes, really) and later revived by a floppy disk with his personality on it (YES, REALLY). Many issues afterward, he sacrificed himself to blow up Unicron and then came back thanks to a last-minute Deus Ex Machina. This is to say nothing of the numerous other versions of Optimus Prime that show up with each new Transformers reimagining.
So what’s the most traumatizing death to befall Optimus Prime? We’re going with the post-movie episode “Dark Awakening.” As the Autobots happen across their drifting space mausoleum, they find Optimus Prime’s crypt empty and their leader wandering around alive and well. Yet something’s not right. Optimus was crudely revived by the treacherous Quintessons, and he’s programmed to lead his former comrades into a trap. Undead Optimus eventually shakes it off and saves his friends, flying his ship on a noble suicide run even as his body breaks apart.